Sue’s testimony (part 1 of 3)

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In the first part of Sue’s testimony she talks about moving from South Wales to Newcastle upon Tyne in the late 1970s, her first exposure to the magazine Spare Rib, volunteering, student activism, Rock Against Racism, the Reclaim the Night movement, social justice, women’s groups and sexual equality and building communities.

“You can call me Sue that’s fine and I’m 65 now and I came to Newcastle from Cardiff where I was born, in 1978 so I’ve lived here ever since I was uh when I first um came across a feminist magazine or even a feminist to my knowledge I  would have been 19 or 20. and I was in Cardiff and I just come back from some working abroad and I was looking for something to do I didn’t have a job and I hadn’t done well in exams and stuff I hadn’t really stayed on at school much after 16, but there was a volunteer organization in central Cardiff (I lived just outside while I was sort of a bit homeless but anyway that’s a different story). So I went there to find some volunteering opportunities with my sister and I got really involved in this organization and um I did some initial volunteering and then I started working in the office and I got to know people there and it was used as a meeting place by a whole lot of different um I suppose we’d say activist or radical organizations now so Friends of the Earth used to meet there and various people and I just met people that I’d never met before so I grew up in a small village although I was born in Cardiff I grew up in a small village outside Cardiff and my parents were quite conservative with a small C. The link to feminist magazines was I moved into one of the collective houses in being Cardiff at the time and so there were three other people living in the house and there were two men and there was another woman and a woman lived on the she had the ground floor front bedroom I remember and she but she was a little bit older than me and she worked in computers and she was not a tall geeky looking I remember she had a lovely curly hair and very translucent pale skin and the reason I remember those things is because I went in a I knocked on a door went because I wanted to ask her something about us and she said come in and she was naked and I’d not seen a naked woman you know an adult woman before and I remember being completely entranced by this but at the same time there was a Spare Rib Magazine on her bed so I picked that up because that’s what you would do and you know I had a conversation she was she wasn’t at all bothered about being naked in front of me so there’s this combination of these two things that make that memory really strong you know. I had no sense of fancying her at all it wasn’t that I was just struck by this beauty of her skin this very pale soft skin and her nakedness and then there was this magazine so then she said oh that’s Spare Rib you might be interested in that have a look at it, and of course I’d never seen one before and that was it I you know. I read it and we talked about stuff but that was my first memory of reading of ever seeing or even knowing that there was such a thing as a feminist magazine so it was an early Spare Rib and that would have been that was that was probably early 1978 but I remember that I was very excited by the ideas and of course I was already engaged with those kind of radical ideas so yeah that reading that first reading of a magazine was yeah it was in that moment of time when you know everything about my life and things that I’d known were changing really very particular time, 20 I would have been.  I remember the beginnings of those sort of discussions about what we now call gender but you know sex equality as an issue and men were not interested in talking about that and I went through a big shift in terms of my interest in it there was something about being part of a group I suppose, that sense of belonging around the ideas that created a sense of I suppose we call it Community now but we didn’t in those days and so you sort of gravitated towards other made friends with other women who had similar ideas and then it wasn’t friends with men because they didn’t the culture was so different in the 80s late 70s early 80s to anything you know I mean it’s changed so much in the last few years you know when I’ve talked to younger women and I mean much younger women you know when I’ve talked to students about it and they ask about it and it’s really hard to explain how pervasive it was. You know it was everything, the way women were treated and so to read something that presented a completely different point of view that not only questions certain ways that things were, you know that were suggesting that rape was always not the woman’s fault for instance, that was so radical then and so counter to everything that the whole society was saying, the law, the police, the newspapers, the media in particular were you know transfixed by the idea of what women wore, just the whole culture was about you know. Men made decisions and men set the tone and men created the conversations and so to be with a group of women was Radical and to have these magazines that were feeding us ideas and reflecting Our Lives as well so it’s a two-way process a magazine in a lot of ways is a mirror I think to women’s lives but of course it’s not going to be all women’s lives and that became the story of the Spare Rib in the end you know that it had to change to broaden itself and unfortunately that I think was part of what led to its demise because it lost some of its older not older but more long-standing readership and when it changed but that that was much later on what we were doing was you know trying to get hold of the magazine so if you couldn’t afford a subscription it was very hard to get hold of because W.H. Smith wouldn’t stock it because you know they just wouldn’t so we used to go in and ask for it anyway you know to try and create the demand I mean the magazine was part of what else was going on you know so we were I was part of a women’s group and you would get these you know you would get Spare Rib and someone would pass it round you know and I can’t remember when, I think it was the 90s before I saw another feminist thing, I think OutWrite, I don’t know if that was out in the 80s or the 90s you know the newspaper but I can remember getting copies of that but I just remember this very kind of heated atmosphere very I mean it was just full of energy because we were doing things as well we weren’t just sitting around at night eating toast and talking about it and sharing books we were going out and taking part in Reclaim the Night demonstrations which were women only then very specifically and campaigns against porn magazines being in newsagents because we I was part of a group of women that made all those links that saw male violence as a spectrum you know everything from men constantly touching you they used to touch you all the time if they weren’t touching you in an overtly sexual way like touching your bum or commenting or looking at your breasts they were touching you as you went through a doorway as if you couldn’t kind of steer yourself so we were part of other things and we used to do collections for The Refuge you know some of the women I knew went and volunteered in some of those projects. I would say the magazines were just part of all of those things what I remember about Spare Rib was it being a kind of almost like a glossy magazine and so it’s sort of you know that was different to when OutWrite came out because that was a newspaper and that felt very different and so you expect something different don’t you know the idea of a magazine is that it doesn’t come out that frequently so it was monthly I think and then it has lots of articles in it and photographs and it’s in colour it’s not just black and white so it always felt slightly luxurious really it’s always an amazing cover so there will be something really striking on the cover and they went for you know there were different things sometimes it was photographs of women but they’d you know, it might be an older woman, or it might be a black woman, it might be a woman with a baby, it could be you know could be anything and there would be different stories so there were lots of uh things about women’s lives there were coverage of things that were in the news and how they’re related to women there were stuff about campaigns but there was masses of other stuff in it so there were adverts from women only businesses I remember those and there was  in those in the 80s there was a big thing about you know women learning trades um seek adverts for women plumbers and electricians and nearly all of it was in London so it was absolutely no use to someone who lived 300 miles away there was women of removal van I can’t remember the name of it but I think they’re still going there were um endless I mean the classified ads section was huge but it was everything so it was women looking for dates women trying to get information women in particular jobs who were looking to find out if there were other feminists in those jobs, you know to join up with them different campaigns all the political organizations were you know trying to recruit women for their causes women advertising rooms to rent you know or wanting a room or just wanting a travel companion you know there were women setting up Holiday Homes in different parts of the country and abroad so you get adverts you know who stay in a women’s house in Greece or Spain or Devon or somewhere so there was loads of things like that and then there were cinema listings and there were book recommendations and music recommendations I remember those because I was always looking for stuff about books obviously um and it seemed that most things were happening in London that was what it makes it struck me so the classifieds weren’t that useful to me as someone who didn’t live in London but then Wires came out in the 80s I think and that was I don’t think I don’t know if that was published in London but it certainly had a more National spread of information that’s what I remember about it and it seemed to me that Bradford was a hotbed of feminism, maybe the wires was produced in Bradford so they knew more about what was going on but it seemed that the sort of Bradford Leads Sheffield triangle area was thriving but there was also stuff about feminism and different feminisms and I remember that because that was very fascinating I was very interested in that so obviously it was interesting ideas and you know there’d be arguments about whether the root of women’s oppression is economic or whether it’s social or whether it’s about male violence so all these different things about family so all this was argued out in the pages as well and it wasn’t called so much called feminine feminism was the sort of theoretical talk Women’s Liberation was that activists talk I that’s my memory of it but magazine serve a purpose in that because then you get magazines that come out that represent those particular viewpoints so you start to get socialist feminist stuff coming out and I can’t remember I know Red Rag was published in the North East but I’m sure there was newsletters within the Labour Party as well that you know serve that kind of function for those groups people produce their own stuff because that’s what you did in those days you didn’t have to go to printer or own a printer at home but you know there were Community Print Works so you would go to the community print place and they would run them off on the Gestetner or if they got a new-fangled Xerox machine they could photocopy things that you typed by hand or drawn by hand so there was a lot more kind of DIY production so the magazines and you know all the printed material kind of couldn’t be as quick as that at doing things because magazines were monthly.”

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